Recently, I have been feeling a real need to be brave. My life has been presenting all kinds of opportunities to show up with an open heart, even though I am terrified. There are two things coming up I am certain will be of great help to me in this practice: Andrea Scher’s Cultivating Courage ecourse and Brene’ Brown’s Daring Greatly book and read-along.
Brene’ Brown’s book Gifts of Imperfection was a critical resource when I started the Life Rehab this blog chronicles. It made me see I had been in a long term abusive relationship–with myself–and helped me to understand the way out of it. I’ve had the opportunity to hear her talk multiple times about her work and research, her life and experience, and her new book is going to be brilliant, (my copy is in transit, on its way to me as I write this, and I can’t wait).
P.S. Look at what showed up just a few hours later!
By showing up, opening her heart, sharing the truth (part research, part personal experience) about shame and vulnerability, daring greatly, and living a wholehearted life, Brene’ Brown is helping so many to discover the value of being brave, in being exactly who we are, in living a wholehearted life. This is the trailer for the book:
And what better to match the Daring Greatly read-along than a Cultivating Courage class with Andrea Scher?! Everything Andrea does is magic. I have taken three classes with her, and every one expands my sense of possibility and purpose. She is electric, pure love energy, vibrant and wise and playful. Just thinking about this latest offering, I feel braver already.
Andrea asked for courage stories from her readers to use in this class. I sent her one, and want to share it with you, kind and gentle reader. Maybe you need a little dose of courage too? Maybe I’ll see you in class?
Our first dog Obi, a Rottweiler/German Shepherd/Husky mix my husband and I rescued at eleven weeks old, was diagnosed with lymphoma, a treatable but incurable canine cancer, right after he turned seven years old. Just after his birthday but before the horrible phone call confirming his cancer, I told my friend, “I don’t know what it is about seven, but I feel like if something happens to him now, I don’t have the right to say it’s not fair. He’s had a really good life.” A few days later, when I told her about his cancer, she whispered, “Do you remember what you said? Do you think you knew?”
I didn’t, couldn’t have guessed it. Other than a tiny lump in his chest the size of a pea, he was completely healthy, vibrant and fully alive. We didn’t know the lump was a swollen lymph node, weren’t even worried enough to make a special appointment to have it checked, simply waited and asked during his next visit. Our vet insisted on doing a needle biopsy right away. The resulting diagnosis was a complete shock, the worst kind of surprise.
Courage can mean either doing something that frightens you, or having strength in the face of pain or grief. Caring for a terminally ill loved one requires the full measure of courage, the entire weight of its meaning. There is no place to hide when the quality of a being’s life is your responsibility, when they are sick and cannot help themselves, when you love them with your whole heart. Because Obi couldn’t tell me what he wanted, it was up to me to intuit what he needed, and to judge when his suffering got to be too much. I had to be present with his pain, and love him enough to let him go. When the time came to make that decision, I made the phone call, provided a loving and safe space, and stayed with Obi as he took his last breath, with my heart open, broken and raw, loving him and letting him go—courageous.
Loving any dog takes courage. In all likelihood, you will outlive them. It might even be your responsibility to make an end of life decision for them. No matter how it happens or when, you won’t be ready, it won’t be okay–and knowing that, you open your heart, invite them into your life anyway. To love a dog, to love anything mortal, knowing you will eventually be separated, that you will ultimately lose them, is the purest form of courage I know. The magic, the medicine is that every time my heart breaks, it expands, gets stronger, and my capacity to love grows with it. Because of my grief, my loss, I have the heart of a warrior, open to both the tenderness and the terror of life.